by Susan Schabacker
A humble humanitarian artist and creative activist with a true heart for the arts and for reaching out to individuals in their communities across the globe; Catherine Howard is an inspiring person with boundless passion.
With her sketchbook project, 13/13/13, Catherine had originally planned to visit 13 locations across the globe, but her traveling shoes took her on a memorable journey to 9 countries. “My change of travel plans was a helpful lesson in the importance of staying flexible and appreciating change as it happens,” said Catherine, a woman of deep intention, drive, and motivation for her art’s mission.
As she traveled and stayed with artists from different cultures, she connected with individuals in each community and helped shape minds and open hearts to different perspectives of social issues through art.
Howard observed other artists’ desire to be free, to be creative, and to think for themselves. The artists created a supportive teaching environment “where everyone was equally encouraged to create their own voice and develop critical thinking skills that empower them to make better choices later in life, which can, in turn, have a great impact on their community, their country, and the world,” said Catherine.
Catherine’s personal definition of art is “a creative expression that sparks a dialogue—something that people are inspired to talk about.” Art can have a huge impact. “When people are caught off guard and surprised, they tend to pay attention,” she said.
Looking beyond our differences, what people share in common is that “we want to be understood, and we want to be cared for. Sometimes we make assumptions about people, based on what they look like or where they came from, but we have to learn to approach others with the understanding that we all are united by a common bond. And, we can have incredibly powerful bonds regardless of background.”
“I have noticed there is a universal feeling that some of the artists have felt so alone in
their artistic quest–that nobody understands and nobody is supporting them, which is often the nature of being a creative individual,” said Catherine.
Catherine is impassioned for helping other artists, and aspiring artists, to further their impact through creativity and artistic expression by developing an interactive curriculum that “encourages them to do what they are doing, network with each other, and feel emotionally supported…and also learn from others’ projects and experiences. This was a need I saw throughout my travels and in my home state. There is a longing for artists to feel connected and interconnected.”
Living with families of artists in the Dominican Republic, Catherine observed their longing that others would appreciate the arts when many of the communities were focused primarily on survival. Often there was a direct connection between the issues the communities faced and the personal issues of the individuals and their families.
“It is important to listen and talk to people in your community– to be able to talk about issues from perspectives that maybe are not similar to our point of view. We need to respect, always, even when we disagree or feel uncomfortable,” said Catherine.
“Bringing more private discussions into the public eye,” she said was a bold step for many individuals. Some of the community was engaged in creating massive murals that reflected current issues such as energy efficiency and political protests, and Catherine encouraged the artists to allow the murals to unfold. Equal education and the “machismo” culture were other topics of discussion.
One of Catherine’s longest travel relationships was with a Zimbabwean family in Highfield. The family lived in a concrete shack with no running water or electricity and “the biggest cockroaches I have ever seen in my life.”
“I never blended in. I was the only white person there, and people had never seen someone like me before. This was disconcerting, but I developed great relationships with kids in the neighborhood.”
“I had connected with most of the families I stayed with beforehand, so I felt there was already a bond. Many of the families went over the top to make me feel at home, so adjusting was incredibly easy,” Catherine said.
Like in Kernersville with its small, fairly tight-knit community, she found the community in Zimbabwe to be similar and she was relieved when the people opened up and welcomed her in. “You develop relationships that can change you forever, and you see how interconnected we all are,” said Catherine.
Even though she felt that she stood out, “I was happy to be out there supporting what other artists are doing and was also grateful to be an ambassador for other cultures.”
Adapting to the differences in other countries was not always an easy adjustment. Catherine’s advice for others is to “always go into a place with an open heart, and be very willing to give. Putting yourself out there like this is not easy; it can make you feel vulnerable, but it is worth it.”
With roots in Durham and extended family in Kernersville, Catherine is a North Carolina native. Her final 4 sketchbooks are developed from her experiences in NC, drawing from her connections with other artists who helped shape her perspective and provided insights that inspired her.
Her most recent sketchbook project will pay homage to her beloved biological family and extended family that have “been with her through everything.” She will explore how “artists shape their communities by the way they love and take care of their family.”
Catherine’s father was a poet and her stepfather’s mother, a painter, so she grew up exposed to art on a regular basis. She wants to thank the people who came before her and acknowledge the legacy they shared. “Our families have an instrumental role in how they shape us and motivate us to be the people we want to be. They have taught me to be resilient and passionate. They have been so influential in my art,” she said.
“Sometimes it is hard for young adults to understand how to honor and love their family yet still be their own independent person. I want them to learn how important it is to encourage, love, and support their family even when it is not easy.”
Catherine’s official book launch was December 19, 2013. The book is a hardbound collection of artwork completed throughout her travels. In June 2014, Catherine will share her curriculum about using art to impact one’s community through healthy relationships and interactions that encourage learning, outreach, and growth. If you are interested in learning more about the book or purchasing one for yourself please visit www.131313SketchBookProject.com.